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Women Authors

Sappho      Elizabeth Barrett Browning      Mary Shelley      Charlotte Perkins Gilman      Harriet Beecher Stowe      Lesya Ukrainka      Astrid Ivask      Christina Rossetti     


Sappho: The Poems

We surmise from the few fragments of Sappho's poetry that she ran a girls' academy, with song and poetry and performance— only the poetry remains, but it shows her invention of personal poetry (she played the lyre, and is credited with inventing the plectrum, still used as the guitar pick). Beyond and more emotionally complex than the odes and histories of the Greeks, Sappho developed the genre of deep personal passion, which we still call "lyric" poetry. Plato called her the Tenth Muse. A thousand years later, the Byzantines had tried to obliterate her "ungodly" works. The slim Sappho: The Poems is all we have left of her genius.

A Teachers Supplement edition is also available.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Aurora Leigh

Elizabeth Barrett Browning had established her own career as a poet before marrying Robert Browning; she had at one time been considered for the position of Poet Laureate of England, but she died in her fifties. Her novel-length poem Aurora Leigh includes many elements of her own life, though not her lifelong chronic illness— but it did conclude with a satisfactory relationship.

Mary Shelley    

Can we go too far? Her most popular novel (though her name is rarely mentioned in the films or spinoffs), was written when she was just eighteen years old, yet it has become a classic in the genre that she helped create: sci-fi. She asks one fundamental question in an age that was questioning everything: What are the limits of human knowledge, and can we go too far? Popularized in films, the novel itself has three stories embedded in each other around the theme of the possible consequences of the human surge toward grasping the future.

Frankenstein, (What does it mean to be human?)

Matilda is Mary Shelley's story of a child growing up almost alone. Her joy when her absent father returns is unbounded, but is destined to be dashed. A weepy novel, if you're up for it.


Charlotte Perkins Gilman

Gilman explains the title of the book ("Benigna") this way: A young girl growing up, an avid reader, notices that in all the children's stories, nothing extraordinary happens— until the villain actually initiates the action of the real story. But what if, she reasons, the crucial action was done by a good, benign character, even though no one actually knows who started it, or how? So, she begins in her own young life, first with small things, and as she grows, actually manages to convince her overbearing father to leave in search of possible wealth in Scotland, relieving her mother of his domination, and then setting up the household to rent out rooms for income. And all as if it were the most natural thing in the world, as if by chance.

Benigna Machiavelli

Harriet Beecher Stowe     

Her book, Uncle Tom's Cabin, became the most popular book in America, with an audience in Britain as well, since the English had outlawed the sale or ownership of slaves twenty years before. Early commentators on both sides of the issue of slavery praised her accurate depiction and realistic characters. It changed the debate from "rabid" abolitionism to human rights.

Just a few years later, she followed up with Dred, this time set in South Carolina, again, broadly descriptive, this time with an abolitionist lawyer, who eventually has to leave for the North. Dred, the title character, is described as the renegade son of Nat Turner, the man who had led an abortive black revolt. Again, the rigidity of the social stratification is accurately described.

Lesya Ukrainka     

A little over a hundred years ago (this may sound familiar), the Ukraine was dominated by Russia. A young poet decided to write a protest poem about this situation, and she chose to write an allegory based on the Babylonian exile of the Jewish people hundreds of years earlier. All the people are enslaved, to rebuild buildings and other heavy tasks for their overlords— but they chose to criticize one of their own, a singer, who played for the dominant class, for being a "traitor." He protests, as he is doing with his voice just what they are doing with their hands, besides which, he includes songs of hope and respect (without specifying whom to respect). Lesya Ukrainka (a pseudonym) was not allowed to publish her book in her own home town in her native Ukrainian language. So she traveled a hundred miles toward the West to see it published.

Astrid Ivask     

At the Fallow's Edge is a collection of poems, memories of her native Latvia, figuratively at the edge of the vast stretch of the Russian steppes. She and her husband Ivar Ivask had run the journal World Literature Today for many years at the University of Oklahoma, giving a platform for many poets and writers around the world.

Christina Rossetti     

Goblin Market is one of Christina Rossetti's children's stories. This tale revolves around the theme of temptation, but then leads into how far will one sister go in order to save another. Christina's family included the talented brothers Dante Gabriel and William Michael Rossetti.

Women as Seen by Shakespeare

Rosalind     Portia

Lady Macbeth     Kate, the Shrew

Desdemona       Juliet

Viola       Cleopatra

Titania        Venus and Adonis

Love Poetry


Dante's Beatrice      Dante and His Circle

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